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Hack MS: Developing Stress Management Solutions

Multiple Sclerosis (MS) is a disabling neurological condition that impacts as many as 2.5 million people around the world. According the MS Society, the disease occurs when the body’s immune system mistakenly attacks the protective coating around the nerve fibers of the central nervous system. People living with the disease can experience vision problems, fatigue, muscle weakness and spasms, and problems with balance, among other challenges.

How the disease manifests itself in patients can vary from day to day and from patient to patient, which can be very stressful for those living with the disease. That was the whole idea behind Hack MS, a three-day event sponsored by Biogen Idec that concluded with the presentation of $40,000 in prize money on February 8, 2015 in Boston.

22 teams vied for that prize money. At various levels of development, these platforms were presented by established companies and by people who experience MS in their daily lives.

Here are the winners:


Winners celebrate following the competition. Photo via @BiogenIdec.

Stay Calm, a mobile app that focuses on healthy eating, yoga, and meditation, snagged the $20,000 first prize. The app was developed by Jeri Burtchell, a patient advocate who lives with MS. The three key components of this app include access to healthy recipes, yoga poses tailored specifically to MS patients, and meditation music that runs on a continuous loop. It also includes a reminder feature (helpful for patients who suffer from short-term memory loss) and a stress diary that can be shared with the patient’s physician.

The $10,000 second prize went to Multiple Steps, a virtual garden app that’s nurtured by users who complete meditation tasks. Because hot weather can be a source of stress for patients, the app incorporates this information and allows patients to score points more easily when the heat index jumps. A science fiction-themed version of the app is at the ideation stage.

Pingwin, an app that passively collects information during sleep to help with stress reduction, scored the $5,000 third prize. A team from Bamboo Mobile Health developed this app, which allows MS patients to manage their day, even with stressors such as poor sleep and hot weather. Pingwin helps the prototypical “Jane Busymom,” mentioned in the demonstration, by heading off stressful situations before they happen, allowing her to reassign daily tasks to family members.

Honorable mentions went to Thryv, a “choose your own adventure” game that encourages MS patients to make proactive decisions that can reduce stress, and Low Pressure, an app that facilitates a social network for managing stress. Each of the teams that developed these apps received $2,500 in prize money.

“I was personally impressed by Team Stay Calm’s app, which I believe has the potential to fill a gap for patients that need help managing stress,” said Megan Weigel, president-elect of the International Organization of MS Nurses and one of the judges at the event. “With the daily struggles that MS patients face, I can see the possibilities that this new tool can help advance the management of stress for the approximately 400,000 Americans living with this disease.”

Aine Cryts

Aine Cryts

    Aine (“ONya”) Cryts is an on-staff contributing writer for MedTech Boston. She's a political scientist by education, a writer and marketer by trade. She has written for various healthcare technology publications and also served as marketing director at several healthcare software companies in the Boston area. Cryts is an avid volunteer, pet lover and long-distance runner. Story ideas are always welcome.

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